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17 Aug 2017

Howard League responds to Aylesbury prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Aylesbury prison, published today (Thursday 17 August).

Inspectors visited the Buckinghamshire prison, which holds young men aged 18 to 21, in April. They found that it had deteriorated, becoming less safe and affected by staffing shortages.

Last month the Howard League raised concerns about the prison in a letter to the Secretary of State for Justice, David Lidington, who is also the MP for Aylesbury. The charity awaits a reply.

Howard League research, to be published later this month, has found that more than 12,000 additional days’ imprisonment were imposed on prisoners found to have broken prison rules in Aylesbury last year – more than any other jail in England and Wales. Inspectors found that this system, known as adjudications, had spiralled out of control to the point where it had lost credibility.

The Howard League legal team is the only frontline national legal team specialising in the rights and entitlements of children and young people in custody. In the last year it has helped with 181 legal issues at Aylesbury – more than any other prison in England and Wales.

The most common issue was adjudications, and the second-most frequent enquiry was about treatment and conditions. The majority of these calls were from BAME young people.

Violence is such a big problem in Aylesbury that some young people are too afraid to leave their cells to access services that would help them.

Last year the prison recorded 370 incidents of self-injury and 391 assaults, including 76 assaults on staff. Inspectors found that investigations into violent incidents were not always completed, and there was little support for victims.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The Howard League receives more calls about problems in Aylesbury than any other prison in the country. Now the wider world can see why.

“Hundreds of damaged young men, many of them teenagers, are being denied any chance of redemption because of the failures of the state. Violence is rife. Self-injury is common. Some are too afraid to even leave their cells.

“This is a report so shocking that, in normal circumstances, the constituency MP would be making a fuss about it in the House of Commons. On this occasion, the constituency MP is also the Secretary of State for Justice and therefore uniquely positioned to do something about it. It is time for action.”

Two-thirds of the young men in Aylesbury told inspectors that they had felt unsafe in the prison. Drugs and alcohol were readily available.

There was a fatalistic attitude among some staff, and inspectors were handed several documents which read: “Aylesbury will always be violent.” Less than half of the young men said that they felt they could turn to a staff member if they had a problem.

Inspectors said that it was a “sad indictment” that young men in the segregation unit did not want to leave – not only because they felt safer, but because they were also more likely to get showers and other basic parts of the regime than if they were on the prison’s main wings.

Just under a quarter of prisoners were unemployed, and those subject to a basic regime spent more than 23 hours a day locked in their cells. Some were allowed only two showers a week.

Visit facilities were basic. Inspectors observed visitors experiencing long delays, despite arriving early after long journeys. Only one in five prisoners who responded to the inspectors’ survey said that they had received help to maintain family ties.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. On Monday 24 July, Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Justice, David Lidington, to raise concerns about Aylesbury prison. The letter can be read in full on the Howard League website.
  1. A copy of the Aylesbury prison inspection report will be available from Thursday 17 August on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
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